The new XK shows what Jaguar could achieve given a freer hand

Gorgeous lines, a great ride and a smooth V8 - Jaguar's stunning coupé shows what designers can achieve, given a free hand, says David Wilkins

Price: £59,995
Engine: 4.2-litre petrol
Performance: 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds, 25mpg
CO2: 269g/km:
Worth considering: BMW 650ci, Maserati 4.2 GT Coupe, Porsche 911

Jaguar is going through a thin patch at the moment. Sales are down and Ford is subjecting its luxury car maker to what press reports call a " strategic review".

That news will chill the hearts of Jag fans because Ford has never shrunk from reducing, selling or closing UK operations, or transferring them overseas. In fairness, though, it has to be said that in the case of Jaguar, Ford has been an indulgent parent, pouring in billions over the years for little return.

The usual diagnosis of Jaguar's problems goes something like this. The company went for growth by extending its model range, but sales didn't expand as quickly as planned - that's usually blamed on recent Jaguars' old-fashioned styling and the compromises forced by the need to share platforms with other vehicles. I'm not sure it's as simple as that - after all, part-sharing is rife in the motor industry and some retro designs have been successful - but I suspect that there has been a particular difficulty in wrapping design themes from older, successful Jaguar models - which were long and low in form - around saloon underpinnings that aren't quite the right size or shape.

The impressive new XK, though, shows what Jaguar could achieve given a freer hand. For a start, it looks stunning; it's probably the most visually exciting car to feature in the Verdict since the Aston Martin DB9 last year. That comparison is apposite, since Aston Martin also belongs to Ford and the two cars bear more than a passing resemblance to each other.

This is inconvenient, because the DB9 costs almost twice as much as the XK, and marvellous though it is, it isn't twice as good. It is presumably to distance it from the in-house competition that the XK has been given such boring headlamps - to my eyes at least, probably the only items that stand between Jaguar's coupé and visual perfection.

There isn't much else to quibble about, either; the expectations aroused by this Jag's impressive exterior are amply fulfilled. A strong, smooth V8 engine, a great automatic gearbox and impressive ride quality for such a sporty car are all part of the mix.

In fact, if the XK is any guide at all to what Jaguar has in the pipeline, I think Ford, having come so far, would be mad not to persevere with it. But if the Americans do end up selling, at least this is likely to have one beneficial side effect: any new owner won't need to worry about treading on Aston's toes and is therefore likely to give the XK the headlights to match the rest of its looks.

Stuart Dunsby, 42, Project manager from Bath
Usual car: Jaguar X-type

I spotted the new XK from a distance by the characteristic lines leading to the rear wing, and the 20in wheels. Inside, there were a host of controls, all within easy reach and fairly self-explanatory. By pressing the start button, you could almost feel the sheer power while idling. When I accelerated, the XK was extremely smooth, with very little exterior noise. As I flipped the gear selector to sport mode, the car went down a gear, ready for a pure thrust of power. By using the gear paddles at the back of the steering wheel, I was able to fine-tune exiting roundabouts. Cornering was superb, too, with effortless control. All in all, very hard to beat for money and looks.

Chris Lynch, 45, with George, 11, and Sophie, 9, Investment sales manager, Bristol
Usual car: Jaguar XJ

The XK has lovely lines, luxurious comfort and great road presence. As with all the large Jaguars, space is at a premium but my children coped well in the back. Folding rear seats would improve practicality in the boot area, and less reflection of the dashboard in the windscreen would help. The new electric brake is a welcome addition to the old XK8. The pedal box is also better, with more space for your feet, while the paddle-shift auto gear box is a delight to use, and the parking sensors make reversing effortless. The sound of the V8 engine is superb - this car excited me and I would love to have one.

Stephen Williams, 29, Assistant company secretary, Bristol
Usual car: BMW 120D Sport

This is an extremely good-looking car. Being tall, I thought the interior would be a little too cosy, but with the fully electric seats there was plenty of space, although room for passengers in the back was very limited. The car seemed to have every electronic gadget one could imagine, and most were easy to use. When driving, I found the automatic fairly slow to respond, but in sports mode, the gear changes were effortless, and just where I would expect them to be. The ride was surprisingly smooth over poorly maintained country roads. Visibility was also good, although the severe rake of the rear window impaired the view. But it's a fun car to drive.

If you would like to take part, e-mail or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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